This time of year is often one of reflection on the past, evaluation of the present, and planning for the future. Our jobs, relationships, finances and other elements of our worldly lives are typically the subject of those activities – and rightfully so. However, we would do well to address our spiritual lives, too. As you set your sights on 2006, I want to encourage you as James encouraged the early Christians:
Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you hypocrites. Let there be tears for the wrong things you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.
James 4:8-10 (New Living Translation)
James urged the people to draw close to God. How? They would first have to recognize the areas of their lives that were not pleasing to God and turn from them. Then, when they bowed and worshiped Him with repentant hearts, they would draw close to Him and reap the wonderful reward of God’s grace as He drew near to them: He would lift them up and give them honor. That is the position God desires each of us to experience.
This passage in James is one that I quoted when I recently spoke about “Worship Revival: Renewing a Dynamic Devotion to God.” Just as God, through James, called the early Christians to draw near to Him, and as He called the people of Israel, through Zechariah (Zechariah 1:3), to return to Him, He is calling us through His Word today. Let a revival of our worship start now and carry into 2006!
Let me share a couple of other passages of Scripture for consideration. The first is found in the gospel of Luke. Jesus had a crowd following Him after they had seen Him miraculously touch people’s lives. Rather than just let them follow Him according to their own understanding, He gave them some insight into what it would look like to be His disciple:
"If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And you cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross and follow me.
"But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first getting estimates and then checking to see if there is enough money to pay the bills? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of funds. And then how everyone would laugh at you! They would say, `There’s the person who started that building and ran out of money before it was finished!’
"Or what king would ever dream of going to war without first sitting down with his counselors and discussing whether his army of ten thousand is strong enough to defeat the twenty thousand soldiers who are marching against him? If he is not able, then while the enemy is still far away, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace.
"So no one can become my disciple without giving up everything for me."
Luke 14:26-33 (New Living Translation)
Jesus asks for a lot, but didn’t He give a lot? And isn’t the reward He offers far greater than the cost?
The next passage is in Romans, and it is one I have quoted in Peace in the Storm before. Paul, the apostle, summarizes what Jesus is talking about (I’m quoting the Amplified version, so just read the expanded text in the ( ) and [ ] as part of the sentence):
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].
Romans 12:1-2 (The Amplified Bible)
As a reminder, the words within the parentheses and brackets in The Amplified Bible are additional words or phrases in today’s language to provide better insight into the meaning of the text of the original Bible language. I chose the Amplified version for these verses because it helps us better understand the boldness of Paul’s words:
“…beg of you…”
“…make a decisive dedication…”
“…presenting all your members and faculties…”
“…be transformed/changed by the entire renewal of your mind…”
Nothing is left in question. In view of all of God’s mercies, because it is acceptable and well pleasing to Him, and because it is our reasonable act of worship, we must give God all we are. Then, we will know God’s will, even as it relates specifically to our lives. Then, He will lift us up and give us honor. Would you like to see some more Biblical examples of how God responds to worship? Take a look:
- 2 Chronicles 5:14 – There was worship in the temple, with praising and thanking the Lord, saying “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever.” Then, the house of the Lord was filled with a cloud, so the priests could not continue ministering, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. Worship allows you to experience the glory of the Lord in your life.
- Acts 4:31 – An assembly prayed, saying, “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them…” and continued proclamation of who God is, followed by a request for boldness, healings, signs and wonders. After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke God’s word without fear. Worship paves the way to answered prayer.
- Acts 16:25 – Paul and Silas were in prison, and they were praying and singing hymns to God. Then, there was a great earthquake so the foundation of the prison was shaken and all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. God moved in response to their worship! Worship opens the door to deliverance – in spite of the circumstances!
Isn’t that what you want for your life in 2006? Actually, disregard 2006. Isn’t that what you want for your life every day? I know I do. It all begins with worship. Imagine our lives, our churches, our world, if there was a sincere worship revival? And sincerity is crucial. David said it best in Psalm 51:
You would not be pleased with sacrifices, or I would bring them.
If I brought you a burnt offering, you would not accept it.
The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit.
A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:16-17 (New Living Translation)
For that reason, my desire is not that you will read this message and say, “Okay, good point, I’m going to revive my worship.” The foundation for that motivation will quickly crumble. No, my desire is that you will read these words and take a fresh look at yourself and at God – His person, His goodness, His promises. Then, let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy (James 4:9).
James didn’t write “let there be sorrow… deep grief… sadness… gloom…” because that what he wants for Christians. It’s certainly not what God wants. But that’s the natural response when we see God for who He is, in His holiness, overflowing with mercy, and when we see us for who we are, with all of our pride stripped away, in light of God. That is the broken and repentant heart that God is looking for. That’s where worship begins, and where God can make the glorious exchange with us.
At that moment, He will give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair (Isaiah 61:3). He will lift you up – far higher than you can go on your own – and give you honor – far more than you can achieve on your own. That sounds like the making of a Happy New Year to me!
Grace, peace, and joy to you and your family during this Christmas season and into 2006.